was a mid-1950s highly respected serious police drama on CBS that
critics and listeners (who found it) enjoyed it. The problem, however,
was that the public was spending more and more time seeking and
watching television programming and the potential audience was shrinking and changing its listening habits.
The program was written by Stanley
Niss, one of the key persons behind the legendary Gang
program. Niss also directed most every episode and was producer for
almost half of the series. The
producer for the early episodes of the series was John Ives, also a
Syndicated newspaper radio critic Magee Adams said in his review of
the series that “the show represents admirable programming
program was on CBS in 1953 to 1956, part of the interest in police
dramas that began with NBC's Dragnet
and was mirrored and enhanced by CBS in its police series The
is My Beat.
All of those series were produced in Hollywood. 21st
however, was produced in New York, and had the cooperation of New
York's Police Benevolent Association, the major police officer labor
union. The program's first episode was the week after Broadway is My Beat had its final episode.
program has the gritty feel of police officers getting through their
day. You had a better sense of the flow of life in the precinct
building than you did in other programs that focused on a main
for the program stated that the “stories will be a cross-section of
an officer’s day-to-day duties: settling a family quarrel, giving
first aid, directing traffic, delivering a baby, or encouraging
teenagers to become useful citizens. The stories will also relate the
never-ceasing struggle against the underworld of thieves, muggers,
dope pushers, policy runners, vicious hoodlums, racketeers and
Captain Frank Kennelly was played by Everett Sloane for the first 109
episodes and his exit was in the story as a promotion to Deputy
Inspector that required a new assignment elsewhere. Actor James
Gregory portrayed his replacement, Captain Cronin, and Les Damon took
over that role near the end of the series. Radio veterans Ken Lynch,
Harold Stone, and the ubiquitous Santos Ortega were regulars during
much of the series. Niss was losing actors for the series as
Hollywood lured them away. He let the scripts reflect the flow of
personnel as a regular precinct would, with officers on leave,
transfers, retirements, changes in shifts and assignments, and other
reasons that fit to the story. He would create a new role for the
replacement cast member in the process.
number of the precinct, 21, was discontinued by the New York Police
in 1929, almost 25 years before the series aired, and was therefore
available to use as a title. The
geography of the fictitious precinct was considered to be Manhattan’s
Upper West Side, which CBS publicity described “where tempers are
at a constant fever pitch and where anything can and does happen.”
went off the air, CBS would eventually have another New York-based
drama that used actual cases as its springboard. Indictment,
written and advised by former Assistant District Attorney Eliezer
Lipsky, picked up where the police work left off. The Hehn collection had one episode of that series which can be found at https://archive.org/details/IndictmentJHMC
21st Precinct was
originally expected to make a move to television, and plans were made
in 1953 for a pilot episode. It is not known if such a pilot program
was ever made, but newspaper reports of the time indicate that the
preparations were serious at that time.
of these mid-to-late 1950s programs exist solely because of the Armed
Forces Radio Service being supplied recordings by the networks for
re-broadcast to overseas personnel and civilians. When the program
was aired, tape recorders were beginning to be marketed to consumers.
This means there can be significant differences in sound quality from
episode to episode. Much of this important series has survived,
however. At the time Joe Hehn was collecting programs, there were not
many available; what is provided here are only the recordings that
are equal or better in sound quality than what is commonly
circulating among current collectors.
* * *
These recordings are part of the Joe Hehn Memorial Collection. Mr.
Hehn (1931-2020) was a pioneering collector of radio recordings when
the hobby emerged in the 1960s. Digitizing his collection of reel
tapes and discs is the effort of a wide range of North American
volunteers, and includes assistance of some international collectors.
The groups supporting this effort with their funds, time, technology
and skills are the Old Time Radio
Researchers and a small group of transcription disc
preservationists who refer to themselves as the "The Knights of
the Turning Table."